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The Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies: The next 25 years

JewishLedger | 9-16-11

The Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies has prided itself on being a forward-looking place of learning from the start, so when its leaders are asked about the next 25 years, they unanimously agree on an appropriate course: More of the same.
That means the two-pronged role the center has always played, providing educational opportunities both to University of Hartford students and to the greater Hartford community.

The groundwork had already been laid by the time founding director Jonathan Rosenbaum came on board in 1986.
“The ideal of the Greenberg Center was that it would be an academic nexus and a real opportunity for the community to be served by the university,” he says. “The idea of the academy and the community complementing each other is very appealing and the Greenberg Center was something of a pioneer in emphasizing the benefits of partnership as a major and integral part of its mission.”
Rosenbaum says that colleagues in many academic disciplines were motivated and supportive by the center’s vision, from natural science and engineering to education and the Hartt School of Music. Early support also came from the greater community.

Maurice Greenberg

“I’ve always believed that the fruits of scholarship need to be translated to the ‘learned lay,’” Rosenbaum says. “One of the goals I took on, with support from within and outside the university, was the idea of making the Greenberg Center a place where scholars could explain what they’d discovered to the broad community and excite the community in their research and publication. As a consequence, we were able to not only build academic programs, but also public programs that consistently had an important impact. That’s a key thing the Greenberg Center has done as a kind of exemplar for the larger academic community, both in Judaic studies and in other fields.”
Rosenbaum’s successor, Richard Freund, strengthened the center’s emphasis on Biblical scholarship, and has brought international attention to the university through his archeological work. With the addition of Avinoam Patt to the faculty in 2007, the Greenberg Center expanded to include more offerings in modern Jewish history. Patt has seen two major changes in his field.
“Holocaust education has experienced a major shift since the center’s opening,” he says. “Only in the ‘80s did American Jews become interested in learning about the Holocaust. So the timing of the center’s opening and the establishment of our Holocaust and genocide education program is not coincidental. At that time, there was an awareness that the survivors around us wouldn’t be around forever and that maybe we should listen to them. It was also the decade when the effort to open the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was underway.
Recently, the center created the Connecticut Consortium on Holocaust Education, a new initiative that coordinates the various Holocaust educational programs throughout the state.
The community’s response and involvement have evolved as well, Patt says.

“We do these programs that span thousands of years of history and you start to see different constituencies,” he says. “There are the Bibliophiles who want to know where Mt. Sinai was and who want Richard Freund to answer those mysteries. There are the people who are passionate about the Holocaust and want to hear from me what happened during the war and its impact. There are art- and literature-lovers. And then there are people who just love to learn and are interested in all these things.”
Another development has been increased interest in the study of American Jewish history and of Israel, Patt says.
“The ‘dean’ of American Jewish history in the U.S. is Jonathan Sarna at Brandeis. He tells the story of when he first got into the field, and a Biblical scholar and friend of his father said, ‘Why would you study that? The Jews came to this country and disappeared within a generation. Go study something important.’ To me, it’s an exciting field and I see my classes grow and grow. Students are learning an amazing story: American Jews actually haven’t disappeared. In a place that’s been so good to the Jews but that presents the challenge of maintaining our traditions with all these freedoms around, how have we navigated?”
In addition to offering programming both to the university and the community at large, the Greenberg Center’s teacher-training initiatives serve to bridge the two. University of Hartford students interested in becoming teachers get experience in local public school, Jewish day school, and Hebrew-school classrooms. There are pre-professional programs for budding rabbis and cantors. The center also offers workshops for middle- and high-school teachers in Holocaust and genocide studies, and in Middle East studies.
In the academic pursuit of Zionism and Israel, Patt says that there is consistent interest among the university community and the general public regarding current events and anti-Israel sentiment. “We try to keep up with what’s going on and be that place in the community for people to get information and understand the historical context of how things have evolved.”
While many university campuses have experienced growing anti-Israel rhetoric and activity over the last decade, the University of Hartford has proved an exception, both Freund and Patt say. They point to the inclusion of Arabic language and culture studies in the Greenberg Center’s curriculum, taught by a husband-and-wife team of Israeli Arab academics.
“Among the fastest-growing areas of study are Arabic language and the history of Islamic civilization, as well as modern Islamic culture,” Patt says. “That’s one way that we’ve been able to avoid the problems: there are important conversations that need to be going on, but rather than shut them out, we want them to happen at the center.”
“We have Muslims who teach at the center, as well as people active in the Muslim community and who are well known in the scholarly community,” Freund says. “They answer questions about Israel honestly and are great spokespeople.” In his course on Jewish, Christian, and Islamic ethics, Freund says that he attracts students from Saudi, Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt. “They come to the Greenberg Center because they see us as an honest broker in the intellectual pursuit of these subjects.”
Rosenbaum says that the inclusion of Arabic language and culture in the curriculum fulfills a significant historic role as well.
“The embrace of Arabic under the aegis of the Greenberg Center is appropriate for Jewish studies,” he says. “A great deal of important Jewish literature over the years was written in Arabic, including the works of Maimonides, one of the foremost Jewish scholars of the Middle Ages.”
Freund says that the Greenberg Center may not have been as successful at an institution other than the University of Hartford, which he praises for being “nimble” enough to allow Judaic studies to grow in different directions. Following the support of presidents Stephen Trachtenberg and Humphrey Tonkin, current university head Walter Harrison “has an enormous role in making sure the Greenberg Center has become world-class,” Freund says.
The Greenberg Center was established one generation after Judaic studies departments started appearing at universities like Brown and Columbia, Freund says.
“When Arnold Greenberg and [then-University president] Stephen Trachtenberg started to talk about Judaic studies, they were already following the pattern established at other universities – Jewish history, Hebrew, Yiddish,” Freund says. “What we’re now looking at is, how can Judaic studies best push the university in a different direction, and the field is no longer like it was – an ancillary or secondary department. Rather, how will it be the most important department? We are inherently set up as a multi-disciplinary approach to education. We had to have philosophy, history, art, archeology, language – all in the same department. That’s the real vision of the Greenberg Center. I don’t think it was thought of in those terms in the ‘80s, when everyone was still talking about majors, but we have all of those things in our courses. It’s such a well-rounded student who comes out of our program.”

At the Greenberg Center in 1987 (l to r): Beverly Greenberg, Ann Lebed (seated), Arnold Greenberg, Hank Lebed (founding chair of the Greenberg Center Board of Visitors and interim president of the University of Hartford), Jonathan Rosenbaum, Stephen Trachtenberg (president of the University of Hartford).

The Greenberg Center will be moving to a newly renovated facility on campus, three times the size of its present space. Plans for the state-of-the-art building include a gallery, auditorium, and a Judaic research library with special collections and archives, as well as a learning center “where people from campus and the community can come and hang out and talk,” Freund says. “It will be so innovative in terms of putting us on the right track as to how we will grow over the next 25 years,” he says.
Freund draws from an historical example to define the Greenberg Center’s unique place in the community.
“Originally, the country called Canaan was so important because it was directly between the two ultimate intellectual universes of Antiquity – Mesopotamia and Egypt,” he says. “The word ‘Canaan’ means ‘trading post.’ In the Middle Ages, the Jews were middlemen for the culture. In Spain, the Jews were able to unite the two very disparate intellectual movements of Islam and Christianity, saving the intellectual life of Antiquity because translations were being done from Greek to Arabic and the people involved in these disciplines were Jews. Just as being a cultural middleman was something that the Jews have done well historically, having Judaic studies as the intellectual middleman at the university is a role that the Greenberg Center is well-positioned to fill.”
According to Freund, part of the original idea in the ‘60s was that Judaic studies should not just be for Jews. Trachtenberg and Greenberg, he notes, saw this as an intellectual challenge to take on. “In that sense, intellectually, we are perfectly positioned for the next 25 years in terms of our position in the greater community,” he says.
“The Center has become the place in Greater Hartford where the community comes to learn,” says current chair Naomi Cohen. “That means that, for University of Hartford students in academic majors and for members of the public who take courses and attend lectures, exhibits, workshops, films, and other programming, we are the place on which the community has come to depend for thoughtful scholarship and creative programming. And, it is a testament to the vision and generosity of Arnold and Beverly Greenberg.  Their philanthropy has made a lasting difference. More collaboration with other area educational institutions and community agencies will be a hallmark of the next quarter century. Blessed by the talented leadership of Richard Freund and Avi Patt, the Center will continue to grow as an institution that helps the community learn from the past and build for the future.”
For Rosenbaum, that vision of the future is perhaps even more global in scope.
“I see the Greenberg Center playing an increasingly national role, not only because of its ability to marshal resources, but also because it commits itself to society and to the community as a whole. It is one of the few and key places to which one goes to understand, in a broad sense, discoveries in Jewish studies.”

The Greenberg Center  will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a gala dinner to be held on Sunday, Sept. 25 at the University of Hartford, featuring CNN political anchor Wolf Blitzer as keynote speaker. See article for details.


Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies
Fall 2011 Schedule of Events

All events take place on the campus of the University of Hartford.  For more information call (860) 768-4964 or email mgcjs@hartford.edu.

Biblical Archaeology Workshop
Mali I, Charles Dana Hall
::: 1:30 – 2:15 p.m.
“The ‘New’ Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum: Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Holy Books” lecture with Adolfo Roitman, curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls and head of the Shrine of the Book, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
::: 2:15 – 3 p.m.
“2,000 Years of Nazareth,” question-and-answer and book sighing with Hazza Abu Rabia, instructor of Arabic at the University of Hartford.


::: 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Holocaust Educators Workshop and Middle East Teachers Workshop for Middle and High School Teachers
1877 Club, Harry Jack Gray Center


Wednesday, Nov. 9
::: 2:30 – 4:30 p.m.
Symposium and exhibition opening: The Family Business – the Next Generation
Wilde Auditorium and Sherman Museum, Harry Jack Gray Center
Symposium and exhibition featuring local entrepreneurs who have transitioned from the founding vision of a company to the next generation.  Moderated by Margery Steinberg, associate professor emerita, Barney School of Business, University of Hartford
::: 4:40 p.m. Opening reception


::: 8 p.m.
2011 Miller Reel Jewish Filmmaker Award
Wilde Auditorium, Harry Jack Gray Center
Presented to Judith Glatzer Wechsler for her documentary “Nahum Glatzer (Exile and Renewal),” a new film on noted Jewish philosopher and literary scholar Nahum Norbert Glatzer. Co-sponsored by the Charter Oak Cultural Center.


::: 1:30 p.m.
Yiddish Film in the Aftermath of the Holocaust”
Mali I, Charles Dana Hall
With Professor Avinoam Patt.  Includes clips from “Lang Iz der Veg” (Long is the Road) (1949) and “Unzere Kinder” (Our Children) (1948), the first movies to represent the Holocaust after World War II.

Long bus rides, temporary shelters and lots of phone calls: Inside the Jewish response to the mounting refugee crisis in Poland
Conversation with Ruby Namdar
Joe Biden on U.S.-Israel disagreements: ‘that’s what friends do’

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